...is to post this following story after gazing wordlessly at it with the lithographic tenure of hindsight. I wrote 'A problem of State' my freshman year of college. I wrote it because of a daydream I had while walking to the bus stop nearest the bell tower. At the time I remember poring over every word, every detail every little reference to World War I or greek mythology.
The file has not been modified since Y2K, I have moved it around and recopied it but I have made no changes to the original text. Although even pasting it here feels a bit like holding out my scroat and sliding it into a cage of blood thirtsy wolverines I must proceed. Eviscerate it if you must, this was my finest work at the time when I was aged 18 years old.
Thank the seven pagan gods of Kwanzaa that I finished college.
This is exactly the kind of crap I am dredging out of my fallible memory and flammable notebooks not because its so important to the world but because it serves as constant reminder that however bleak my writing career may seem, at least I have come a long long way from this shit.
PS: This was going to be the story containing the titular line for my first anthology of short stories labeled 'Arsenal of Opportunity'
A Problem of State
“Notice the boy walking down the street. He strides boldly though hiding the uncertainties intimately tied with humanity. Through fortune or fate he has endured the countless crossing paths that add and subtract to everyone. These intersections, which frame the thoughts and character of everyone both new and familiar to this planet, shaped an able-bodied warrior poet and delivered him to this particular occasion. His origin lies in Concord, though living had been discord from his first conscious breath.”
Thoughts such as this often kept my mind loaded on the long walks I was so fond of taking. But today was simply not ordinary, my destination was neither class nor study, but rather a journey to see the sweetest girl yet encountered throughout my lonely travels. Typically clad I strolled belt less and sock less in my relaxed olive-drab pants and complimentary black sweater. Just a few exposed inches of my dark red undershirt circled my neck, almost reaching the wavy lines of my shaggy brown hair. My blue travel bag was an appropriate substitute for my usual backpack.
A discerning observer might have noticed that the most expensive things on my person were my silver glasses and wristwatch; both were birthday presents, the watch was half as old as me. Prized above all these was my only real attempt at vanity. A carving of wood bearing the visage of Nyaminyami (Knee-ah me knee-ah me) hung round my neck on a black string bearing fifty-five round black beads. Black beads are the cheapest in Zimbabwe.
This figure was the embodiment of a legend that I found fascinating from the moment I heard it. River gods, one a female, the other a male had been separated by the construction of a hydroelectric dam only fifty years ago on the Zambezi River. Nyaminyami was the male that would one day destroy the dam in order to reunite with his love, tragic but inspiring. The beads fall like this, twenty-seven on the left, twenty-eight on the right. Fifty-five is my lucky number, two fives, the first is two higher than three, the second is two lower than seven. Clever I suppose.
I could only smile at my surroundings, the quiet path shielding me from the road, a hawk flying high above, and the tenacious grass growing through the cracks of broken bricks in the sidewalk. I stopped to take a picture of some black ants that appeared to be fighting red ants. Looking down was the sun, so oft unappreciated by my peers that she had lost me among the complacent many. In the face of such overwhelming beauty I could only pinch myself, usually between my second and third abdominal muscles. In doing so I nearly stepped on an arrogant crow as it picked at a dead squirrel. It should be noted that crows are the only species that I consciously think about attacking whenever one lands in range.
But my thoughts dwelt not on crows, nor the state of the day, but rather the current of love that propelled me onward. In my bag I carried something unique to human knowledge, a trump card to level the field against haughty love. A jewel, cut like no other, shaped and polished dearly for the tenure of our engagement. Such works I believe have sparked the question in writers since the beginning “How did I do that?” It would be tragic indeed if something unplanned for happened, seeing as how the world had but a single copy. As I walked behind the last building before the bus stop my steps brought me new images. Every click of my right heel for three paces reminded me of steps taken by those of my lineage.
The first was myself five years ago, sweaty and bruised as I walked off the mat, unusually calm though my first taste of combat had barely whetted my appetite. The other two were wholly familiar though neither had occurred in my lifetime. I have long heard the stories of my father in his youth, adventures and mishaps equaled only by those of my brothers and myself. One stuck out more than any mischievous act however. As a fledgling doctor he had once jumped over a bed into the room of a man having a cardiac arrest. Seeing him fly made my unspread wings bristle with pride. Finally, clad in the raiment of warriors’ white, there stood the true father of my father proud and stern on the steel bow of his destroyer. Wind rustled his hair in rhythm with the torn Japanese flag that lay at his feet. Tripping on a loose brick jerked my perceptions into focus and spellbound I caught a glimpse of my startled self nearly falling into a puddle.
I have had to constantly remind myself that glorifying the past is insulting to the present and only sets up the future for disappointment. My father had done countless other good things as his father surely did despite having his time cut prematurely short. Uncertain of the exact future but dwelling on living up to that standard of greatness always gave me hope. The first a fighter who died in peacetime, who bore a hellion that became a healer, who bore a doer of things both good and evil, not yet defined by trade.
Strangely enough, when I came back to reality I was looking not my usual skyward but earth inclined, and a pair of dirty tennis shoes occupied the focus of my vision. As they have a way of doing, this new element snapped my attention to full force momentarily. My gaze shifted from the curved insoles interrupting the rigid pattern of brick up to a man leaning against the final corner. Vaguely seeing his outstretched hand I reached for some spare to change to hand to the poor fellow. In doing so I noticed his cup looked amazingly like a small revolver. Instantly my eyes met with a sneering stranger staring coldly through a white mask with eyes of such a blue as to make Hitler weep with joy.
This stranger excited no fear, only wonder and amazement at his uncanny form. Fully my height and then some his teeth were bared and perfectly white. Smooth ebony skin showed around the edges of his concealed face. Something about him was certainly misplaced, but all I could focus on was the intensity of his stare. It was as if the Atlantic poured from his left eye, and the pacific his right. Many before me had been crushed into submission by those waters.
Lost, I realized his lips were moving and replied with “your eyes, they are…” but was cut short by a sharp blow to my temple. Not as powerful as the optical onslaught, I was nonetheless thrown off balance and apparently deaf as I dropped to a knee, only wanting another glance into those azure miracles.
I froze and looked up from my disadvantaged position, only to be disappointed by the glaring sun carelessly shielding his identity. He crouched into view and fire from my modest chestnuts linked me to his watery cobalts, a daunting match in soul and stare. His lips moved again, complying, I gave him my wallet. Never once did I betray the magnetic force between us.
Demanding my bag, silently as before, brought my objections with it. “You can have the bag, but not the book, or the card,” I stated. His twitching scowl seemed to object, so I explained, “The book is from the library, the card is for my girlfriend.” Just for confirmation of position he cracked my forehead with the butt of his pistol. Heaving with sick laughter, he violated my bag, shoving my extremely delicate camera aside to seize a large pink envelope, as the world went red around me.
Mercilessly he tore off the left edge of both card and carriage and read “For Nora, my one and only sunrise.” His laughter was followed up with the ugly rape of my poem. Once so cunningly wrought, the shattered crystalline perfection was reduced to cruel splinters of pain. My pride, now a howling banshee, bellowed through my skull, for what seemed like hours but lasted only seconds. His weirdly high voice wavered, threatening to break, as he gutted my loving words. With my every scrap of restraint I suppressed the overwhelming urge to try and kill the giggling rapist and took the opportunity to think about my situation.
This idiot was robbing me, a fighter growing deadlier, in broad daylight only a few feet away from one of the busiest streets in Raleigh. Now I was a kettle whistling, “Those words are meant for softer eyes you heathen…” I started, only to be cut down a third time by the cold and unforgiving steel of his weapon. Blood surged through my every eager vessel and as I fought back tears, my anger began to dissolve.
Take a lump of coal, or graphite, any carbon will do, and squeeze it. Keep this up and raise the temperature. Black gunk will resolve and clarify almost miraculously into a new crystal structure. The result is the hardest substance known, sparkling and impervious, a diamond. Such is the method of which I was forged into action. Still needing help, I called for it.
My father’s voice has a clear and knowing quality, something akin to how Jesus must have sounded to his followers when explaining the will of God. Memory alone has never been able to accurately reproduce it, and yet it was clear as Spanish air in springtime. “Is something the matter son?” he asked me, as if oblivious. Answering him with equal sarcasm I told him “I’m being robbed by a snickering buffoon at gunpoint, what could be wrong?” My moronic assailant still searched my bag clumsily with his free hand, entirely amused. The voice seemed to frown and asked “Son, did I teach you nothing about fighting over all these years?”
Every tactic I had ever seen, thought of and used came to me; sifting through them I found nothing to increase my advantage, then my thoughts turned to peace. Clarity descended from heaven, manifested by a three word phrase more powerful than even ‘I love you,’ “Honor, Duty, Fun” I whispered. At this revelation, once a joke but now my motto, he smiled “So now you see, that you are not meeting any of these, while your love and pride are being dashed to pieces. This point in your life, the present is the most important. Everything you have done and could accomplish mean nothing if you let yourself be defeated now. Stifle your angry blood and realize something greater beats in your chest than in his. THINK boy, the answer to your every problem lies in the palm of your hand,” he whispered and began to fade. “Thank you dad” I spit through clenched teeth and he was gone. Turning point.
My thoughts, now a distant thunderstorm, fell upon the object of my aspiration. A single rampart of vertical bricks, freestanding prisms of tempered clay, bordered the red horizontal mosaic on which I lay. Resting under my calloused palm was one such block. I wrapped my strong fingers around the abrupt edges, gripping tight to form a composite fist of flesh and earth. Now a raging tempest, I had become what is insisted to be impossible, a force against which nothing can stand. Instinct brought my eyes to his and a familiar hand disenchanted my would- be robber of the notion that he was in control. The same hand moved from his bleeding head to shatter his hand now swinging the gun towards me. I relished rising from my trenches and breaking the stalemate that would hold no man in bondage again.
Now the world slowed down for me to watch. The now-halved broken rock fell from my hand away and down, following the masked wretch’s descent perfectly. His useless gun dropped and landed with a soft sparking pop that flung the still-smoking barrel into the uncrushed portion his face. Silence carried him slowly to the ground where he, like all objects in the real world eventually, came to rest. Anteaus himself would have been slow to rise from such a blow. Resisting the natural tendency to fall into low-energy states I stood tall, as I had after every battle won.
Brushing myself off, I let dust, dirt, and little crumbs of brick slip and fall to earth, satisfying gravity temporarily. Dazed as I was, I disarmed the other further. Ripping off his mask and hat only revealed the ebony man to be an Aryan youth, his face was painted only around the eyes and mouth of his mask, not even reaching the roots of his bright blonde hair. The shamelessness of the intended crime now sunk into realization and I nearly choked on it. Sickened to the point of weakness I could only look at the shards of brick next to my victim, his eyes now locked away and twitching. I picked up the broken pieces and set them back in place, knowing his blood would cement them together. Achingly I crawled to my bag, fixed my possessions and moved on.
As I went I wiggled every brick making sure each was loose and ready. Now the sidewalk was an arsenal of opportunity, free for anyone who needed it. Resolving to call my dad I heard, sirens pass to attend some reported crime but not my own. The only evidence of my ordeal was some disfigurement and the wrecked envelope holding the dirty yet intact gem.
Looking over the damage done I tucked the card back into it’s rightful place ignoring my broken camera. Seeing the cracks in both glass and paper wrecked my control and tears fell like meteors through the dambursts.
Written and swooped by Seth Keipper
Copyright Seth Keipper 2000